Butterflies are powerful networking tools at Deloitte. On International Women’s Day in London two years ago, Ellen Stafford-Sigg WG88 handed out little paper butterflies to the leaders on the Global Clients & Industries Executive team, asking them to share the name of a woman as a potential mentee. She matched the names with other global leaders as mentors and a few months later launched a new formal mentoring program — Global Butterfly.

Ellen Stafford-Sigg WG88

Ellen Stafford-Sigg WG88

The program was just the latest push for women’s opportunity from the seasoned leader, who is retiring after more than three decades at Deloitte. As a trailblazer herself, Stafford-Sigg has been an advocate throughout her career for the advancement of women into leadership roles.

Since her days as a finance major at Wharton in the 1980s, Stafford-Sigg had been accustomed to men outnumbering women. “Wharton was a reflection of where we were in the business world,” she says. Back then, women didn’t think about serving as examples for a greater cause; they were simply supporting one another as they prepared for graduation. But a summer spent in New York City’s investment banking industry taught Stafford-Sigg something important about herself.

“Investment banking is transactional,” she says. “I’m much more longer-term- and relationship-focused, and I wanted to see change through.”

Stafford-Sigg joined the scrappy consulting firm that was part of Touche Ross, the smallest of the Big Eight accounting firms. Her initial plan was a familiar one to career consultants: get a sense of different industries, then pick one to pursue as a “real” job path. “So as it turns out,” Stafford-Sigg says, “I never got a real job.” The constant flow of new challenges and seeing her decisions play out in the day-to-day operations of companies appealed to her. And after Touche Ross merged with Deloitte and “The Big Eight” firms became “The Big Four,” the variety of her clients and the leadership opportunities grew even more: “I could change what I was doing every three to five years without having to change companies, which was fabulous.”

She continued to expand her horizons by working with multi-national bio-pharma companies and Deloitte teams across 25 countries. She looked for opportunities to connect with female counterparts in countries such as Belgium and China, which faced the same problem that American companies had in the 1990s: not a lot of women at the partnership level to start with, and not much of a pipeline to get there. That was what led Deloitte to launch the Women’s Initiative in 1993: Deloitte U.S. partners, principals, and directors were predominantly male; only five percent of those holding these titles were women. Today, it’s more than 30 percent.

“Once you’ve got more women staying to be partner, other women see that this is possible,” says Ellen Stafford-Sigg WG88.

Back in 1993, Stafford-Sigg, then a senior manager contemplating the partner path, realized most male partners had a secret weapon for success that most women didn’t: a stay-at-home spouse. This made it easier for many men to climb the ladder; it also made it more likely that women would leave that path even before having children, since they didn’t see a way forward. She thought of her own life: “If I ever want a family and my career, it probably will not be here. It’s just the practicality of it; it didn’t look possible.”

The Women’s Initiative allowed many women to give voice to these and other doubts. Stafford-Sigg remembers a senior male colleague who said he had to stay home with sick kids when his wife had a big presentation at work. “That change of the dialogue was the beginning of the change of culture,” says Stafford-Sigg. “And that change in culture meant more women felt they could stay and figure it out, because they had support overall and from their male colleagues. And that, in turn, just started the wheel going. Once you’ve got more women staying to be partner, other women see that this is possible.”

She noticed over time that the increase in women partners didn’t just benefit those women; it also made Deloitte a more attractive employer to the next generation. In March 2024, of 374 Wharton alumni who self-reported Deloitte as their employer, 46 percent were female. (“Consultant” is the most popular occupation for Wharton alumnae overall, with current reports totaling 1,562.)

As she did in her daily role as a client team leader, Stafford-Sigg looked for ways within Deloitte to ensure that women were more visible, were being developed, and were considered for leadership roles. She had that opportunity while serving on Deloitte’s boards, frequently asking about the pipeline for key client and management roles. When she later co-chaired the firm’s Elected Leadership Succession Committee, which oversees development of potential future CEO and chair candidates, that focus was keen. “There needs to be sound governance oversight to make sure that a variety of leaders is being developed, that there’s diversity in that pool of leaders, and that the firm has a pipeline that goes out beyond one cycle,” she says.

“Because of the mutual vulnerability that you shared, you’re always there for each other,” says Stafford-Sigg of mentoring.

Over the years, Stafford-Sigg has recognized that there are many types of mentorship beyond an authority figure mentoring a junior colleague. She argues that the term “reverse mentoring” is something of a misnomer, because all mentoring is two-way, and both individuals can always learn from one another.

“You need to be willing to share,” she says. “As a mentee, that means your concerns, your vulnerability, your insecurities. As a mentor, it means sharing both what you’ve learned by doing things well and successfully, and by sharing the mistakes you’ve made and then your own insecurities and how you overcame them. So mentoring to me is a lot about trust.”

In addition to her corporate mentoring, Stafford-Sigg has been recognized for her pro bono leadership. In 2016, she was presented with the Champion for Girls award for 17 years of service on the board and as chair of the national board for Girls Inc. To young women seeking mentors, Stafford-Sigg recommends branching out beyond your managers and being bold when asking to connect. “Because of where they are in their career and the mutual vulnerability that you shared, you’re always there for each other,” she says of serving as a mentor. “And you have that relationship for a very long time.”

When she retires in June, Stafford-Sigg will leave behind a tradition of mentorship at Deloitte for women and men.  The butterflies have multiplied — by the hundreds.